My boyfriend pulled into my driveway, and put the car in park.
We both sat in silence as we tried to assess whether we should try to continue our “discussion”, or head inside my house.
Not wanting to drag my poor unsuspecting roommate into our cloud of drama, we opted to remain in the vehicle.
Or rather, I opted to remain in the vehicle…by not getting out.
Climbing back into the driver side, my boyfriend looked at me. Waiting.
Since I clearly wasn’t ready to go inside, I had apparently nonverbally implied that I had something important left to say.
As he sat, waiting for me to explain the reason for my mutiny, I felt fear taking over.
This man, who is so kind and gentle with my heart wanted to know how I felt, and I was incapable of speaking.
Scenes of boyfriends past who were far less kind and gentle, ran through my mind. These experiences had taught me that expressing how I felt was the worst thing I could do. Especially if how I felt was the slightest bit irrational.
It felt like a thousand pound weight was crushing my chest.
I wanted to scream, cry, and run all at the same time. But there I sat. Emotionless.
I KNEW this man was going to be nothing but loving in his response. But fear was SO familiar. More familiar than the emotions in my heart being received with value and respect.
He spoke genuinely. He was reassuring. He was direct. His eyes shone with his love and honesty.
But belief felt out of reach. Fear somehow seemed safer. And I could feel myself going further and further into isolation.
As he reached out to take my hand, I pulled away.
I had officially reached, “the crisis point”.
The amazing thing was, there literally had NOT been an actual crisis.
Have you ever been there? In a moment where fear completely prevented logic, and your entire body responded as though the worst had happened?
I sure have.
I’m not proud to admit it, but this is not the first time that I have been in this situation.
More than once, I have lost what I consider to be my amazing ability to “handle my emotions”.
When this occurs, normal Kari transforms into what can only be described as an unrecognizable emotional monster.
This monster feeds off of fear, insecurity, and rejection – real or imagined.
This monster does not act with restraint, wisdom and discernment. Nor does it have the ability to pause and consider the damage that is being inflicted upon those around it.
I know in these moments that I’m not myself. I know in these moments that I’m letting insecurity and failure define who I am, instead of the Lord.
I know that I’m potentially going to regret things that I said, didn’t say, or the way that I acted, and even the mess that I’m eventually going to have to pick up.
However, instinct screams that becoming the emotional monster is only safe way to survive said scenario.
Feeling powerless to override instinct, I wait for the emotion to subside, already dreading the shame of the aftermath.
I’m also not proud to admit that the damage from these Jekel/Hyde experiences have sometimes been costly.
Some have also been embarrassing and quite humorous, which is a story for another time…
Either way, they are not something that I, or those around me enjoy experiencing.
My unhealthy way of dealing with emotion, came out of years of abuse.
Years of being told that my thinking was flawed. That my emotions were wrong. That everything about me needed to be thrown away and redesigned.
Some of this abuse came from a relationship. The rest came from myself.
I was all to quick to believe the lies I was being fed, and took his words as law.
Soon, I didn’t need him to tell me how pathetic and ridiculous I was. I was doing that myself.
While his words didn’t stop, and even grew stronger and more hurtful, the internal battle I was facing grew.
I didn’t really want to believe those things. But somehow, the stinging pain of his words and rejection felt so familiar, that I concluded they just HAD to be right. As I found myself continually siding with him, I literally became unable to draw any other conclusion about myself.
God eventually rescued me from this relationship. But just because I was living elsewhere, didn’t mean the damage had been healed.
It would take 6 years of prayer, healing, counseling, successes and failures to get to where I was that night, with my boyfriend in my driveway.
Throughout that 6 years I had learned how to express how I felt. How to set boundaries. How to not let the emotional monster transform and reck havoc on its unsuspecting victims…
But in that moment, in that car, despite all my hard work and breakthrough, I may as well have been living 6 years in the past.
Inside, I could hear the Lord whispering that I had a choice. That I didn’t have to let myself feel this way. That I could trust the man sitting next to me.
But still, I remained silent. That’s the worst part about the emotional monster. It can’t speak. In fact, for me the transformation in becoming the emotional monster is complete when I pull away and shut down emotionally.
That’s right. My emotional monster doesn’t usually involve words at all. It involves something worse. Distance.
While yelling can be equally unhealthy for other reasons, distance is a death trap to relationships.
I knew that if I chose to stay silent and not tell him how I was really feeling, even if it was the craziest thing in the world, I’d be inflicting a potentially deadly blow to this relationship I loved.
Maybe not today. But each time I chose to stay silent instead of trusting him with my emotions, I would keep us from a real opportunity to grow, connect, and even fall deeper in love. If we missed enough of those opportunities, over time, we would have no connection or relationship at all.
As I fought, unsuccessfully, to get my mouth to open, my incredible boyfriend pulled me close and began to pray.
“Lord, I rebuke fear in the name of Jesus…” he went on, but what I remember most was the end. He repeated “Fear has NO place” again and again, until the entire atmosphere of the car had changed, and I had joined him in repeating the phrase.
Being able to speak out those words in prayer gave me courage. I pushed on, my voice growing more confident as I spoke. I asked the Lord to forgive me for letting fear and insecurity take control. I commanded them to leave in the name of Jesus. And together he and I replaced those lies with truth about who I was, truth about who he was, and truth about the power that God had over this and every situation.
When we were done praying, tears were flowing down my face.
The emotional dam that had been keeping me paralyzed had been broken.
The rest of the conversation was still hard for me. Being that raw and vulnerable, especially when I felt like I was being ridiculous was not easy.
But the more that I talked, the more free I felt.
As I spoke, the invisible weight that had been on my chest disappeared. I finally let out the last of what I felt, and sank into his waiting arms, feeling more peace than I had in hours.
He didn’t mock me. He didn’t yell at me. He didn’t try to find ways to hurt or insult me.
He held me. He loved me. He blessed me. Even the parts that were clearly ridiculous.
He also kindly spoke the truth.
As he talked, I realized the maturity that he was showing with his decision. He wasn’t trying to hurt me, or prolong something we both wanted. He was doing what it took to make it successful.
He was being a leader. He was doing what was best. Even if that meant I wasn’t happy about the timing of it, or fully on board with his plan yet.
While my change of heart felt amazing to me, something even more incredible happened.
He gave me permission. Permission to continue to share how I felt. Permission to challenge him when I didn’t agree. Permission to help make sure that he continued to lead us towards life, God’s best, and blessing.
This was perhaps the most healing and humbling thing he could have done.
He didn’t let my moment of dramatics and irrationality bench me from the game. He found a way to make sure I knew I was still a part of the team, and that we were in this together.
I can see how in these moments God has given me a man who is going to help make me better.
It won’t always be fun. It won’t always be easy. We won’t always agree.
And I don’t want him to have to face the emotional monster again, even though I’m sure this will not be the only time my past tries to control my future.
My man’s grace, love and compassion perfectly match the strength that he showed.
In that moment, he chose to fight for me. Not with me.
He saw the reality of the situation, and applied the appropriate response.
Instead of looking at me like I was an emotional monster threatening to destroy a peaceful sleeping village, my boyfriend saw the truth, that despite the hostility and distance I was trying to create, I was not a monster, but a wounded animal that needed treatment.
I needed help, NOT destruction. And he chose to step towards me in love, instead of push me away.
This act of courage, and quite frankly great humility, gave ME the courage and strength I needed to fight for myself too.
I don’t know what I would have done in his spot. I know what others have done. And quite honestly, what they chose was a lot more painful and way less risky.
That night, in my driveway, I felt more of those wounds from the past begin to heal.
I can only hope and pray that when the situation is reversed, and his emotional monster begins to take shape, that I can see him the same way. Not as my enemy, or potential threat. But as someone I love, who needs me to take a step closer and assess what action is needed.
This is WHY God gives us partners. There are times where we, quite frankly, are incapable of fighting for ourselves. I know I was that night.
But in a loving relationship, we get to help provide that moment of clarity and truth for each other, and even start the fight for help and breakthrough on behalf of our loved one, if that’s what is needed.
While being a team is hard, it’s worth the effort, and I could not be more thankful to be a part of the one I’m on.
by Kari Trent Stageberg
I love Jesus, my family, helping nonprofits, sunshine, football, YoungLife, sushi, my friends, Blue Bell ice cream, traveling, Fall, and life’s amazing adventures.
I would LOVE to hear your story, and feature you on the blog! To share your story, please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org